Can you write a poem about the war?

Erich Fried: More than just "What it is"

Status: 05/17/2021 10:35 a.m.

The Austrian poet Erich Fried was a committed humanist and humorous language artist. Some people don't even know one of his most famous lines from a book of poetry, but from Mia's pop song "Was es ist".

by Katrin Krämer

Words were Fried's joy. He knew something to say about everything and constantly formed his thoughts into lines. Sometimes it just wrote poetry out of him. One early morning he announced to his wife Catherine that he had already written 16 poems that night. Given this productivity, it was no wonder that something pathetic came out on a poetry album level. But many verses hit the nerve of the peace-loving, "never again war" -calling generation.

His readers loved Fried not only because of his political poetry. His love poems became particularly popular.

It's nonsense, says common sense.
It is what it is, says love.
It is bad luck, says the calculation.
It's nothing but pain, says fear.
It is hopeless, says insight.
It is what it is, says love. from: "What it is" (Erich Fried)

"Was es ist" appeared in 1983 in one of his more than 20 volumes of poetry. His Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas translations became classics.

"The groupies came in loads"

Rudi Dutschke (seated) and Erich Fried (standing behind Dutschke) at a congress in Frankfurt in 1976.

The house in London where he lived with his third wife Catherine, their three children and his mother was mostly full of guests. His fans knew: At Frieds you can just ring the bell and sleep for a few days. "The groupies came in loads," recalled Catherine Fried. "I once found a note he wrote one summer: 'Please make yourself comfortable and take what you need out of the fridge'."

Erich Fried was born on May 6, 1921 in Vienna to Jewish parents. In an interview he recalled: "I had a slight movement disorder. My father said I was not viable. I compensated. I started writing my first poems when I was five and a half or six years old." He also played theater and soon became the star of the stage troupe.

Erich Fried: peace fighter and anti-fascist

Heinrich Böll (left), Erich Fried and the lawyer Kurt Groenewold (right) in January 1974 in the corridor of the Hamburg District Court. Fried was charged with denigration, Böll acted as an expert in the process.

The Nazi terror left Fried's parents no choice: they wanted to emigrate. Your plan failed. Erich's father was so badly mistreated by a Gestapo man that he died. Shortly before the start of the war, the mother was able to flee to London with Erich. The beloved grandmother was later murdered in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Fried admonished and warned against war and totalitarian regimes throughout his life. That the staunch peace fighter and anti-fascist still developed a friendly relationship with a radical neo-Nazi alienated many of Fried's friends.

Friendly relationship with Michael Kühnen

In 1983 Michael Kühnen was first invited to the Radio Bremen talk show "3 nach 9", but was then removed from the office by the editorial team. Fried, also a guest on the show, was outraged by this. "You mustn't pretend that Nazis are completely different people," he said there. "Unloading him again after you've invited him is definitely wrong and petty. We obviously don't trust ourselves to be able to cope with something like that."

He advocated talking to right-wing extremists and was convinced that they could be converted. Fried stayed in contact with Kühnen until his death in 1988, because he had always been inspired to understand people and to meet them with almost unlimited openness and love.

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NDR culture | Classic in the day | 05/06/2021 | 6:20 am